Sex differences in gene expression patterns associated with the APOE4 allele

Michelle Hsu, Mehek Dedhia, Wim E Crusio, Anna Delprato
F1000Res. 2019-07-23; 8: 387
DOI: 10.12688/f1000research.18671.2

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Background: The APOE gene encodes apolipoprotein ε (ApoE), a protein that associates with lipids to form lipoproteins that package and traffic cholesterol and lipids through the bloodstream. There are at least three different alleles of the APOE gene: APOE2, APOE3, and APOE4. The APOE4 allele increases an individual’s risk for developing late-onset Alzheimer disease (AD) in a dose-dependent manner. Sex differences have been reported for AD susceptibility, age of onset, and symptom progression, with females being more affected than males.

Methods: In this study, we use a systems biology approach to examine gene expression patterns in the brains of aged female and male individuals who are positive for the APOE4 allele in order to identify possible sex-related differences that may be relevant to AD.

Results: Based on correlation analysis, we identified a large number of genes with an expression pattern similar to that of APOE in APOE4-positive individuals. The number of these genes was much higher in APOE4-positive females than in APOE4-positive males, who in turn had more of such genes than APOE4-negative control groups. Our findings also indicate a significant sex* genotype interaction for the CNTNAP2 gene, a member of the neurexin family and a significant interaction for brain area*sex* genotype for PSEN2, a risk factor gene for AD.

Conclusions: Profiling of these genes using Gene Ontology (GO) term classification, pathway enrichment, and differential expression analysis supports the idea of a transcriptional role of APOE with respect to sex differences and AD.

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